Skip to main content

Railways: East Anglia Network

Volume 748: debated on Thursday 10 October 2013

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

My Lords, I thought that I would start with a Michael Caine moment. Not a lot of people know this, but the east of England is one of only two regions that make a net contribution to the Treasury. That is quite interesting, because when people talk about English regions, they talk about Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle. They do not think about Norwich, Chelmsford and Ipswich. It is a really impressive feat, particularly when you consider the rather poor investment in road and rail infrastructure that the east of England has had for the past half-century.

I wish to focus my comments today on just part of the region: the counties of Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Essex and of course my home county of Suffolk. I am really pleased to see that those areas are all represented by speakers in today’s debate. Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire are of course within the eastern region in government terms, but in rail terms they are quite a separate region, so I will leave them to one side. I want to try to make the case for more strategic investment in our region. Given her background, I know that the Minister will bring a real understanding of the issue and of the importance of investment.

Many parts of our regional rail infrastructure have had no modernisation in the past half-century. Much of the rolling stock is now 40 years old. Recent problems with the franchise holders and now with the franchise process itself have resulted in a miserable passenger experience for far too many people in our region. Passengers are being asked to pay higher fares every year, but experience a worse service overall. The award of an interim franchise to Greater Anglia, which has now been extended for a short period, has meant that investment in rolling stock, which is so desperately needed, cannot be made. It has improved the reliability of the service, but faces an uphill struggle against problems caused by poor infrastructure; notably signalling, which brought the entire line into London to a complete halt on Tuesday this week. I would appreciate an update from the Minister on the question of the franchise for our region.

It does not have to be like this. A few years ago, one of the very worst areas in our region was the misery line from Southend to Fenchurch Street, which has now been transformed by new investment. Right through the region and particularly on the main lines, keeping costs down in the old BR days resulted in a number of inadequate stretches of track. I am really pleased that some of these false economies have now been rectified. It is not on the tip of everyone's tongue, but the completion of the Beccles loop, which cost £4 million, has been transformative. On the East Suffolk line, usage has gone up 12% since December, because the Beccles loop and the associated signalling have enabled an hourly train service to run. That indicates how a relatively modest investment can pay dividends.

The eastern regional economy is driven by centres of growth in Cambridge, Norwich, Ipswich, Colchester, Chelmsford and Southend, supported by the market towns and their rural hinterland. Our region also plays a key part in driving forward the capital’s economy. That is especially true of Essex. At its most basic, without the tens of thousands of people who endure a daily commute into London from Essex, our entire economy would grind to a halt. Cambridge, Norwich, Ipswich, Colchester, Chelmsford and Harlow are already hubs of science, innovation and new technology.

East Anglia’s ports have an unparalleled opportunity to develop the offshore energy industry. Felixstowe is already the fourth largest container port in the world and has created around 40,000 jobs in the area. If it is to compete with Antwerp and Rotterdam, it needs infrastructure that is fit for purpose. Some improvements have been made, but further improvement to the Felixstowe to Nuneaton freight corridor is an essential part of ensuring the continued growth, given the congestion on the adjacent A14. Investment in the Ipswich chord is another good start but we need to continue investing. I am very pleased to see the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, in his place today and speaking in this debate. He has done more to keep rail freight on the agenda than anyone else in the country.

East Anglia is one of the fastest-growing parts of the UK. Both commuters and long-distance travellers are growing in number on all the routes under discussion, both to London and between towns and cities in the region. More housing is planned—about 360,000 more houses in the four counties over the next planning period. When I talk to planners across the region, they say that they are concentrating the building, the new-housing growth, in areas with good access to the rail network. Of course, this is good transport planning, but only if the network has the capacity to cope with the growth.

Network Rail is currently basing assumptions on a 75% growth in passenger use over the next 30 years. This simply does not accord with the growth in recent years, and is considered by people who know to be a serious underestimate. The burgeoning economic strength of the region is being increasingly threatened by gridlock, congestion, and capacity shortfall on the network. Local business and quality of life are being undermined. Rail investment has transformed other parts of East Anglia.

I have mentioned the misery line, but the introduction of the Cambridge express service and other improvements on the King’s Lynn-to-London route have made a massive difference. They can unlock areas for sustainable housing and business growth. We need significant but not unrealistic investment in additional infrastructure and rolling stock, including tackling congestion in and around London Liverpool Street and lines to the north through north London, Essex, and Hertfordshire.

In Cambridgeshire, the Ely North junction is a bottleneck which causes problems throughout the network in our part of the region. This really needs to be unlocked to allow the growth of regionally significant routes, including freight. In Suffolk, a passing loop at Wickham Market would further improve the East Suffolk line and will be absolutely essential if Sizewell C gets the go-ahead. This needs to be coupled with more frequent inter-regional services.

A longer-term aspiration for the region, and one which has been talked about since long before I first came into local government in the early 1990s, is the east-west rail link, a link between Cambridge and Oxford. It is not about linking the two old rivals but about providing access between the south-west and south Midlands to the east of the country in a way which bypasses London and releases valuable capacity there.

The rolling stock on the main line is simply not fit for purpose. The Great Eastern main line is badly in need of new intercity stock or new and refurbished trains. We have a hotchpotch of rolling stock which has been scraped together from the rejects of other areas. It has an average age of 25 years. Greater Anglia has made some improvements in cleanliness which are greatly welcome, but, with the uncertainty of the franchise in recent years, travelling on our main line trains can be a pretty unpleasant experience, with tatty seats, malfunctioning doors, and, even worse, malfunctioning toilets.

It is not really just about the links between the main towns and cities. I live close to a market town, and I am very well aware not only of how important rail is to the prosperity of my town but also of the importance of branch lines to many of the smaller market towns. These lines across our four counties offer commuter, tourism, and everyday travel opportunities for communities. This connectivity can be further exploited to offer further economic opportunities and housing growth if the services were faster and more frequent.

Services are operated with basic trains, which, in many cases, have serious accessibility constraints. Line speeds are often poor and impaired by issues such as single sections and level crossings. Experience has shown that improving core services, frequency, speed, and so on vastly increases rail usage. The many different users of the lines to Southminster, Braintree, Sudbury, Harwich, Felixstowe, and so on would all increase in number if these constraints were improved.

These lines have been much promoted by thriving community rail partnerships, such as the Crouch Valley, the Gainsborough, Mayflower, Wherry, and Bittern lines. There are 11 community rail lines in Suffolk which have been really successful in raising the profile of the railway locally and in some cases doubling the number of passengers using them. Just to echo the point made by the Minister in the previous debate on buses, they really show the value of harnessing local involvement, because community rail partnerships are harnessing this enthusiasm, recruiting volunteers to work with local authorities in the rail industry, securing improvements to the appearance of stations, and so on. It has involved a lot of hard work by dedicated people.

But they can only go so far and in the end it comes down to the need for the continuation and security of local authority funding to keep the work of these community rail partnerships going, and the need for additional rolling stock to accommodate the greater number of passengers being carried.

I hope I have been able in this brief time to make a case for more investment in our thriving region and for the fact that it could produce even more revenue for the Exchequer than it currently does. I look forward to hearing contributions from other noble Lords and from my noble friend the Minister.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for securing this debate and for giving us the opportunity to explore some important issues. My interest in this debate is that of a passenger—a regular passenger but thankfully not a commuter—on the London Liverpool Street to Norwich line. My own station is Hatfield Peverel between Chelmsford and Witham. As my husband is the Member of Parliament for Harwich and North Essex, I am even more acutely aware of what a big issue this is for all MPs and commuters on this line. The annual season ticket from Hatfield Peverel is now £4,696, which out of taxed income is a lot of money for an unreliable and very overcrowded service.

The eastern regional economy is driven by the centres of growth in Cambridge, Norwich, Ipswich, Colchester, Chelmsford and Southend and supported by smaller market towns. This burgeoning economic strength is increasingly threatened by the hopeless gridlock, congestion and capacity shortfall on our transport network. Local businesses and quality of life are undermined. Commuters on the Greater Anglia franchise who commute on the Great Eastern main line have long been let down by underinvestment and the whole of the east of England has suffered for too long from the effects of this underinvestment. These commuters are effectively paying to subsidise rail services elsewhere as the franchise hands £110 million a year over to the Treasury. They also suffer from frequent delays and problems on the line as congestion and signalling problems impact on them on a regular basis. Indeed, I was in the Clerk of the Parliaments’ office earlier this week and was told by the PA who travels from Hatfield Peverel of the terrible delays on Tuesday due to signalling failure, as mentioned by the noble Baroness. The region’s passengers deserve a better service and value for money for the fares they pay.

Investing in infrastructure and services—such as improvements to tracks to boost capacity and to reduce delays and congestion, new trains, and better passenger services such as wi-fi and refreshments—could potentially unlock £3.7 billion of economic growth for the region. This economic analysis was put together in the GEML capacity study report. I congratulate the region’s MPs who have all got together to publish a rail prospectus to further the campaign for investment in rail services and infrastructure. The prospectus outlines the measures needed to support economic growth and job creation in the region through the railways. These measures are intended to deliver regular services between London and Ipswich with journey times brought down to 60 minutes and between London and Norwich with journey times brought down to 90 minutes—also known as the “Norwich in Ninety” campaign. The prospectus has been supported by councils, business groups and rail user groups in the region and I understand the Secretary of State for Transport has been engaged with this process, meeting MPs and organisations to discuss the plans.

In Network Rail’s strategic business plan for control period 5—investment period 2014-19—it has committed to spending around £2.2 billion in the east of England. The infrastructure improvements include works to signals, new switches and crosses, and the remodelling of Bow Junction near Stratford to increase capacity. The region will also benefit from Crossrail coming to Shenfield. All these investments are welcome but further investment is needed to boost this economic corridor. In particular, commuter and freight capacity on the GEML will be enhanced considerably by introducing four-tracking north-east of Chelmsford. I am sure my noble friend Lord Hanningfield will have more to say about that. This new infrastructure could be put in place to coincide with the development of Beaulieu Park and a proposed new station being constructed there. I pay tribute to my honourable friend in the other place, indeed my own Member of Parliament, Priti Patel. She has been working closely with Essex County Council, Chelmsford City Council, the Essex chambers of commerce, Network Rail and Abellio Greater Anglia to develop a strong economic case for this new infrastructure, recently holding a meeting with them in Chelmsford. Other improvements that are being pressed for include: new, refitted or fully refurbished rolling stock; an increased frequency of services; improvements to branch lines; increased parking capacity at train stations; and track upgrades throughout the GEML to enable services to travel at 110mph to speed up journey times. The new Greater Anglia franchise is due to be in place from October 2016. The franchising process also presents an opportunity to secure new improvements to the train services in the region.

The east of England has suffered for too long from the effects of underinvestment in its rail network. The time is now overdue to rebalance this regional anomaly. Modern growth demands effective rail links to drive a balanced innovation economy, to facilitate sustainable housing and development, and to support an international transport network. I look forward to the Minister’s response to the points that I and others raise in this debate.

I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for achieving this debate. For me, the East Anglia rail network is one of the most important parts of the network in our country. I declare an interest as chairman of the Rail Freight Group. I will not talk just about freight but about Sizewell, which is in the region. Most speakers have commented on the lack of sufficient track on most of the network. Most places are two-track, except the Felixstowe branch which is a single track. As the noble Baroness has said, Felixstowe is a very successful port.

In spite of that—I say “in spite of”, although there is an hourly passenger service on the Felixstowe branch—Felixstowe is achieving 30 trains in each direction on the single track, which is a credit to the port, Network Rail and others. The noble Baroness mentioned the chord that allows the trains to go straight from Felixstowe to Peterborough and Nuneaton without reversing. I call it the bacon factory chord which is a much nicer name. It will make a great difference to the volume.

It is a lovely challenge to have all the jobs at Felixstowe but the intermodal traffic by rail is forecast to at least double, probably more, in 20 years. Whether it will go to Felixstowe, London Gateway or Southampton is a matter for debate. I know that the port will work very hard to get a good market share of that. A new rail freight terminal has just opened at Felixstowe. I do not know whether any noble Lords went to the opening. I could not go myself but I was told that it was very good. However, there Felixstowe is, connected to a single track, which needs to be doubled quickly. It is not a difficult job as it goes mostly through fields. A lot of improvements have already been done to the bacon factory chord, Ipswich, Nuneaton through Peterborough. The gauge has been enhanced to take the nine-foot six-inch boxes on standard wagons and the signalling is being improved. A few other things also need doing.

The next stage is to have the line electrified. Around six months to a year ago, the Government announced an electric spine from Southampton, which will be very useful for freight and which we all welcome. However, there should also be an electric spine from Felixstowe, which would improve the capacity. It would obviously reduce the emissions that there are from the diesel trains. It would also enable more freight trains from Felixstowe to the Midlands and the north-west to avoid going along the North London Line in London. Our colleagues in London are not very happy about having all those freight trains. It is rather odd to have freight trains going through virtually the centre of a major capital city. That suggestion would help a great deal.

Electrification needs to be on the agenda in a firm programme, whereby the train operators will invest in the electric locos necessary. It is really good news that in the past month Direct Rail Services announced the order for the first new electric locomotives probably for 25 years. The beauty of them is that they also have a diesel donkey engine in them so that they can do the last mile into terminals. It needs doing, and it needs doing properly and planning in advance. For me, freight is a very important part of the East Anglia region. I am sure that those who are keen to see better passenger services will be pleased that more freight in the future will probably go a different way rather than through London.

As regards Sizewell, a big nuclear power station will probably go ahead and will employ a large number of people. I have been talking to EDF, the developer, about whether it could try to avoid too much damage to the local roads in Suffolk and the area by making more use of the railways. I know there has been an improvement in Beccles, which is good but it probably needs double tracking, where there is none, from Woodbridge or somewhere around there.

There are two reasons for doing this. One is to get the workers to work. Why cannot they go by bus or car? Of course they can, but in a great big traffic jam, which would be very bad for all the other users. Why could there not be a bit of a link? It would be the old, original link to Aldeburgh, extended into the Sizewell site to run passenger services for the workers—the commuters, if you like—from Ipswich or wherever. I see that as a big Section 106 improvement, which I hope the local authorities will push for. I think they will.

The second reason for making more use of the railways is, of course, to try to stop too many deliveries coming by road. This was done very successfully in the construction of terminal 5, and it was done reasonably successfully for the Stratford Olympics. All the bulk materials can come and go—they can go by sea as well now. In the construction of terminal 5, when it came to bringing things such as desks, basins and all the smaller things that you would not necessarily bring by rail, there was a series of consolidation centres around the country, wherever was convenient for the manufacturing or supply. The contractors called up for what they wanted the day before, and the goods were sent down by train overnight. It just needed a rail terminal in the area.

The combination of passenger and freight benefits for Sizewell and for the residents who live around there would be immense. I hope the Government will encourage EDF to look at that very positively when it comes to the planning process, and make it all part of a Section 106 agreement. Again, I am very pleased to welcome the new Minister to this debate and I look forward to what she has to say.

I do not live in East Anglia, but because one of my grandchildren has recently gone to University in Norwich, I have sampled the passenger service. It was really quite a shock: it was so shabby—I think that is the word I would use to describe it. It did not seem to be like an inter-city service at all. The point I want to make is that the new franchise is due to be let in 2016. It is important that plans are made to find new rolling stock. Rolling stock off the east coast, which is called mark 4 rolling stock, is pretty good and would be very good if it were refurbished. It could be used to revolutionise the East Anglian service and the electric locomotives could go there as well, because the department has ordered the IEP trains—the express inter-city trains from Hitachi—to work the east coast services. I will not go into that saga—it has been much discussed—but whichever this franchisee is, it should be in the position where it negotiates with the suppliers of the rolling stock. This is not a process in which the Department for Transport needs to be or should be involved.

Rolling stock companies were set up and they were supposed to own or provide the rolling stock. The train operator was supposed to be what is called “asset light”. It was supposed not to own the track and not to own the rolling stock. Therefore, it could make decisions about hiring the rolling stock which was best for that route. I hope that the franchising process can be put in train sufficiently early for the potential franchisees to agree with the rolling stock companies what they want to do the job. There will be surplus rolling stock which they will be able to use. It is not the sort of thing for which the department has the skills necessary to actually make this happen. I am sure that these trains, if refurbished, would be a huge lift to the area because they have half their life left. I know that is not as good as new trains but it would be an improvement.

I urge the Minister to get the franchising process moving and, when the franchise is let, to let it for a longish period. Particularly in recent years, franchisees have been given short-term extensions during which they cannot possibly be expected to invest. They might apply a coat of paint, clean the trains and hire a few staff, but they cannot invest. The problem is the disjuncture between the long life of railway assets—40, 50, 60 or 70 years—and the very short franchises. The franchise should be long enough for the franchisee to see some return on his money. However, the franchise should not be extended unless there are means in place by which the franchisee is held to account for punctuality, cleanliness and reliability. Reliability is particularly important, because it is the long delays that upset people. Let us have a sort of quality partnership, whereby the franchisee gets a long franchise in return for achieving what is expected, both in return to the Treasury and in quality.

My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, for obtaining this debate. It gives us all the chance to voice our views and suggestions on how we might improve railways in the eastern region. I also congratulate the Minister on her appointment. As this is one of her first debates, I hope that she will take a particular interest in improving railways in the east.

I am getting on a bit in years, and I have probably been using the railways in the eastern region longer than anyone in this Room. My mother came from a little town called Holt in north Norfolk. The only rail service in Holt today is a steam engine you can take from Sheringham to Holt. I used to go regularly to Holt with my mother during the war, and I have cards sent by my mother to my father saying: “Paul and I will be at Chelmsford station at two o’clock on Saturday afternoon”; I was a two year-old at the time. Since then, I have been using the trains very frequently, coming to London to attend meetings of the National Farmers Union, local government—as most people know—the Association of County Councils, the Local Government Association, and now the House of Lords. I have been a regular user of the railways in the east for 70 years.

I do not think the railways are as good now as they were when I was a two year-old. The service is very unreliable at times. Most people have mentioned the signalling problems. I was one of those caught up in them on Tuesday; the delays were initially an hour. Most Lords have mentioned reliability, and we do not have reliability in the eastern region. Every week there is a disruption to the train service. On Tuesday it was pretty bad because the signals problems were not just in Chelmsford, but in Rochford as well. The whole of Essex, and right up to Norwich, was at a standstill for a long while on Tuesday morning.

It seems to me that in this day and age improving signalling should not be beyond us. Surely, given the technology we have now, signalling could be improved, and virtually all these delays are due to signalling. If some investment could be put into signalling now, we might have a better and more reliable service without billions of pounds of investment. As noble Lords have said, the eastern region is a net contributor, so money spent on signalling now might solve the problems in the short term.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, mentioned the station at Chelmsford. That is another improvement that could solve a lot of problems. The developers will build the station, at no cost to the national Exchequer or even to the rail companies serving the station. There needs to be is a loop just north of Chelmsford back towards Witham. Then the trains could sit in the loop while others came up and down the line. There will be a large car park there which will stop the enormous congestion in Chelmsford at peak times. That could solve a lot of the problems in the eastern region, so I hope that the Minister will take that one up and pursue it, because that could do a lot of good.

Many noble Lords have mentioned rolling stock. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, that our service is pretty shabby, but we could do with a few more shabby coaches rather than none at all. Often, the trains are very short. I now often catch the train at Ingatestone. This was not first thing in the morning, it was about 10 am. The lord-lieutenant and I were standing on the platform, two elderly Peers. We got on the train and there was nowhere to sit down, so we both had to stand up. I felt ill and collapsed on the floor and the lord-lieutenant was holding me up, trying to support me. Initially, no one gave us their seats or anything. Then we were offered a seat and, fortunately, I was helped off the train at Stratford. I must say that the attendants at Stratford station were very good. It was because of the size of the train at 10 am that we had to stand up. So it seems that we could do something better with rolling stock now, rather than waiting years for it.

Those are the particular issues: the rolling stock, the station at Chelmsford and please can we get someone to do something about signalling? Everyone has spoken about the growth in the eastern region. As an Essex man, I know about the growth in Essex in Chelmsford and Witham and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, said, the whole of the county is buoyant. At 6 am, the platform was virtually six deep with people waiting to come to work in London. This is one of the new Minister’s first debates. Let us have her take a particular interest and see whether we can solve some of our problems in the eastern region as soon as we can.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market on securing this debate, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, on her appointment as Minister. It has been fascinating listening to noble Lords who are much more expert on the complex technical issues of the rail network than I am or will ever be. However, there is one area in which I have become more experienced than I might have wished over the past few years, and that is disability access to trains and stations, where more investment in the rail network is essential. But it is not just about money; it is also about attitude at the top of the train operating companies. I hope that your Lordships will allow me to stretch the scope of the Question for Short Debate today to include the train operating companies that cover the east of England region, despite the earlier comments of my noble friend Lady Scott, not least because my experience is over the whole of the east of England and I think that some points bear comparison.

I shall start by saying that the staff of whichever train operating company I have had to ask for assistance have been unfailingly helpful. Sadly, the services offered are somewhat mixed. Starting with wheelchair access, the east of England train operating companies all set out their offer on their websites and are proud to say that most of their larger stations are step-free and have barriers suitable for a wheelchair to go through, but that is only as good as the lifts at the station. Intermittent faults on a lift are an irritant to someone with a stick and a case, but to someone with a wheelchair, that station becomes a no-go zone. At Watford Junction, a lift went out of service 10 days ago and we were told at the time that it would be mended within three days. It is still out of service. We have been told that someone has written off for a part, but we have no idea when service will resume. The alternative route to that platform, which is the main west coast line down to London, means that you have to come out of the station, go all the way round it and under a tunnel, climb up a steep hill into the car park, and then get a member of staff to unlock the gate for you in order to access the platform.

Then there is the vexed issue of ramps on to trains. Disabled passengers travelling home in the evening can usually find support at the London terminus, but people tell me that they have occasionally arrived at their destination and there is no staff member to meet them, certainly not to put up a ramp. A staff member pointed out to me that it was helpful that I lived at a main station with 24-hour staff. What people do when staff are there for only part of the day or, worse, at unmanned stations, is a real issue. At another station that I have had occasion to use, if you are in a wheelchair you have to wait until the train has left the station to be escorted down a ramp, across the rail track and up the ramp on the other side. That is clearly not safe in this day and age.

Not all disabled people are in wheelchairs. I tend not to use a wheelchair on trains unless I have to. Many disabled people rely on sticks and crutches. The modern trend for beautiful forecourts—King’s Cross, Watford Junction and, just out of the region, Birmingham New Street—rightly addresses the issue of flat surfaces and wide, automatic doors. However, the amazing new hall at King’s Cross, which I use frequently, has positioned the disabled priority seats for waiting in a place where you cannot see the departure boards. The seats are right underneath them, so you have to get up and move to find out the platform your train will arrive at. They have not thought about the walking disabled and how they will get to and from the station. The taxi drop-off at King’s Cross is great, but if you want to get a taxi once you have come off a train at King’s Cross, you have to stand and queue with everyone else. I have done that for up to 15 minutes.

The recently opened forecourt at Watford Junction had neither a disabled drop-off point nor a pick-up space near the station. The new provision removed the disabled spaces beside the forecourt and put them on the other side of the bus station. When I first inquired about that, I was told that all disabled people use wheelchairs, and that wheelchairs and access do not matter as long as there is a path. Let me tell you that after four months they now have a disabled drop-off and pick-up point, but they had real problems in understanding that people with blue badges carry the badges with them, so people coming to pick them up do not have the badge. When they are accosted, they have to say—my husband is expert at this—“My wife will be along in a minute and will show you her badge then”. Good practice in this area includes Euston and St Pancras, where they have separate queues and priority access for disabled passengers, and it is well signposted.

I will move briefly to access on trains. The old rolling stock seats are really difficult for people who have difficulty getting up and down. If you use a mobility buggy rather than a wheelchair, some companies ask you to move into a seat. I would be in real trouble if that happened because I find getting up and down difficult. All companies now have priority seat arrangements. However, they rely on the public understanding the little sign behind the seat that says, “Please give up this seat if available”. More often than not, I have to ask people to give up their seat. Southern Trains and London Midland labels are easily accessible. Those on Greater Anglia and First Capital Connect services are a disgrace. In the rush hour, it can be even harder. The commuting public do not want to look at you if you need a seat. I have been reduced to tears on two occasions. Staff were brilliant at helping, but, again, often on a crowded train they are not there. The TOCs feel better because they offer priority cards, but they need to do more than publicise where the seats are and they should have advertisements to encourage people to give up their seats if they are needed. The @nogobritain campaign, run by Channel 4, has been brilliant at exposing these problems.

The report card on access is very mixed. Where is the accountability? Can government departments help to join up the thinking to get the train operating companies to provide a good service? We need more trains that are a smooth ride, not a stop-start service held at a red signal, for people with disabilities.

My Lords, I am grateful for the chance to say a few words in the gap. When I was a schoolboy after the war, living in Suffolk, we had a wonderful stopping service. It was a direct line between Liverpool Street and Lowestoft. I would get out at Wickham Market and change to a little steam train that went to Framlingham. I would get out at Marlesford. Sometimes I was allowed to stand on the footplate, and I would be met by my mother with a pony and cart at Marlesford station.

My next real experience of rail was that for five years I was on the board of British Rail Anglia. It was the worst commercial experience I have ever had; it was so frustrating. The quality of the management was just not there—and the key is management. There has been talk about producing good franchises. When considering who you should give a franchise to, it is necessary to look at the management and the targets that they are prepared to set themselves. Let them be judged by those targets. Interview the management. We all know that if you are in the advertising world and you decide to hire an advertising agent, you do not just see the agency, you see the person who is going to handle the account, so insist on that. It is a matter of buying a good franchise by doing it properly, and that has not been done.

In the old days when you had the wonderful non-stop service from London to Ipswich and Norwich, you could guarantee an hour between London and Ipswich. Now, however, it is different. One of the things that I had as a non-executive on the board was a first-class free ticket to wherever I wanted to go, but I virtually never used it on my own line if a journey was time-sensitive. As has been said, reliability is crucial. Trains are about reliability. You cannot blame someone else when you are in a car, but you jolly well can when you are on a train. That is another factor which should be properly taken into account.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, was absolutely right to say that something has to be done about Felixstowe. We should have a new target for the amount of freight that is carried; I think that it is only about 20% at present.

Well, it wants to have a new long-term target, maybe 50%, and in my view let us forget about HS2.

I shall end on a positive note because I am allowed only two or three minutes in which to speak. At least the difficult communications that we have to East Anglia have kept Norfolk and Suffolk the very beautiful counties that they are, and I proudly declare an interest as president of Suffolk Preservation Society.

My Lords, I warmly congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, on securing this debate, but even more so on the trenchant way in which she made her opening remarks and set the scene. She posed a series of questions that I hope the Minister will respond to because they established a position that was greatly reinforced by subsequent contributions in the debate. I also welcome the Minister and congratulate her on her new position. I am sure that she will enjoy the role enormously, although I have to say from bitter experience that I always found these debates the most difficult to respond to, given the constraints of time. I will therefore make my points fairly brief and give the Minister the maximum opportunity to concentrate on the real issues.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Berkeley for ensuring that in this debate about rail we have discussed the issue of rail freight as well, because it is particularly important to the eastern region. After all, there is the obvious claim that the eastern region is a net contributor to the Treasury, and Felixstowe bears a considerable responsibility for that. That is why we should cherish that area of the developing economy and the successes of recent years, and ensure that it goes from success to success. My noble friend is also right to identify how important the issue is with regard to Sizewell.

I reinforce the point that additional investment in our rail service is necessary. Difficulties on many lines have been identified today, along with the inadequacy of the service that is provided at present. Anyone who travels in East Anglia will be all too aware of those difficulties. In a moment I shall comment on an area that has not thus far been commented on, but I have every sympathy with the points that have been made. The expectation is that rail passenger numbers will increase by more than 40%, which makes one realise the level of necessary investment that we have to make just to stand still. The trouble is that at present the trains do stand still on occasion, which is not much help to any of us. We want an improved passenger service and we want the trains to run on time.

I have to say that one despairs. In the area where I am, which I would guess in comparison to Suffolk, Norfolk, Broxbourne and the East Anglia area would be looked upon as Hertfordshire, the line up through Harlow might be considered to be somewhat blessed. After all, Stansted is a crucial dimension of the line. Any idea that having an airport as one dimension of the line improves the service on it has to be thought about again. It certainly sets a benchmark which the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, identified. He said that it is a benchmark for service to the airport, which makes very great demands upon the service. After all, it is the only airport in Britain where over 50% of its passengers arrive by public transport. We need to build upon that. While we realise just how significant the rail is, if you have a line to Stansted that is not a dedicated one—far from it—but has to give considerable priority to the Stansted Express, the implications for the other areas along the line are quite critical. Mention has been made of the significance of places such as Harlow, which is an important economic development area of the eastern region. However, Harlow finds its service affected, as do so many others, by the fact that many trains which are destined for Stansted do not stop there.

We have to recognise that where there is the possibility of additional capacity, we should exploit it. The great bottleneck, as ever for East Anglia, is access to the London terminals for so many of its operations. All the London terminals were created in the 19th century and the bottleneck problem is reflected in them all. Yet it is the case that, coming out of Liverpool Street into the area over which the Stansted line operates, there is extra capacity in the form of land that is spare and owned by the railway. Surely we could follow the pressure of local authorities and communities to bring an extra line or two into that area that would lead into Liverpool Street and thus free up Stansted. It would certainly give priority on a line which serves not just Stansted but, of course, King’s Lynn. I was on a train heading for King’s Lynn the other evening—mercifully, I was only going as far as Bishop’s Stortford—when I heard the classic apology that you get on really good trains: “We apologise for the fact that this train is running late. There is a slow train in front of us”. Wow—what a delight it was for us all to have a slow stopping train in front of a supposedly important express that was going quite a good distance. Liverpool Street to King’s Lynn is one of the longer journeys that one can make in East Anglia.

I hope that the Minister recognises that real issues have been raised in this debate. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, that if it is a question of good management, then how about looking at this test? The directly operated railway on the east coast main line—the one which is in fact being run by the department after that franchise collapsed—has returned a very significant profit. Yet there was no consideration by the Government that that should be used for the two-year period which emerged once the franchise collapsed as far as National Express is concerned. I wonder why? If the Government took the management issue and the targets referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, to heart, it might be that they could learn a lesson from them. They could then do a better job on franchises in the future than has been done in the recent past.

Thank you, my Lords. I have learned enough between debate one and debate two to realise that I have a lectern available to me, so we are definitely making progress. My heart obviously sank as this debate progressed, when I realised that so many Members of your Lordships’ House suffer regularly from this line. I can tell your Lordships that as we went through it, my empathy increased with each additional speech. I, too, thank the noble Baroness for securing this debate because the East Anglia rail network is clearly a topic of real concern to any of us who are involved in the world of transport.

Investment in these services is vital for economic health in the east of England. It unlocks the potential of important regional centres such as Norwich and Ipswich, to which a number of speakers have referred, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Jenkin and Lady Scott, and maintains links between rural communities. It supports the position of Cambridge as one of the leading centres of high-technology in the UK.

I shall try to address questions that have been raised in this debate. If I miss anything, we will definitely follow up with a written response, so I hope that noble Lords will bear with me.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, said, there has been an ongoing dialogue between the department and the key stakeholders in East Anglia on many of these issues. I wish to commend the work that went into Once in a generation—A rail prospectus for East Anglia, and the way in which so many different stakeholders came together to support a united vision around that document. It is now being updated, and I hope that it can be an important mechanism for raising some of the capacity issues that we talked about today. It will be the basis for continuing engagement between the department and stakeholders in East Anglia. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, brought up issues around the quality of service and, more specifically, around rolling stock; I am not sure to what degree it will look at rolling stock in quite that technical sense, but quality of service should be very much embedded in that discussion. As others have said, the Secretary of State has been to Ipswich and been very engaged in this process.

I understand the concerns that investment in rail in East Anglia has been delayed because of the pause in the rail franchising programme last year. The important result is that the Government have a full timetable covering all rail franchises for the next eight years, and it will let us get that programme back on track. To allow the programme to be robustly delivered, and following the recommendations of the Brown review, the timetable contains a number of direct awards that let us stagger the start of the new franchise competitions. The Greater Anglia franchise will receive one of those direct awards. It will be important as we look in the short term and the long term and have those discussions with the rail network to determine whether an economic case can be made for infrastructure improvements to expand capacity. The Greater Anglia direct award goes from the current contract in July 2014 to the start of the next competed franchise in October 2016. We do not yet have the term for the long-term franchise; that is still under discussion. We are concerned that the direct awards do not become a rationale for delay in the long-term franchise. That will be an underpinning issue; it is not expected that the direct award would be required to extend beyond October 2016.

Any improvements will be assessed for affordability and the level of value-for-money that they provide. They must also lay a suitable groundwork that will support the terms of the competition for the next franchise. It is key that the franchise competition remains free from preset obligations so that it can achieve the best possible long-term deal for both the passenger and the taxpayer. But I take on board the comments made about rolling stock; the Government are not necessarily the party to make rolling stock decisions, and I will feed that back into the franchise discussions, although I am not the Minister directly responsible for those. But the need for short-term improvements in rolling stock has been expressed very clearly in this conversation. I want to confirm that we are actively working with the operator, Abellio, to see what improvements can be made to the rolling stock during the short-term direct award period. I do not think that anyone can make any promises; it is certainly unlikely that initiatives will provide the level of improvement that everybody would like to see. But we may be able to get some meaningful and positive changes that generally improve the passenger environment as a whole. I know well that there clearly are issues in the prospectus that was put forward such as power points on the trains, which have been underscored as being very critical to the passenger experience, and we have tried to take those kinds of issues on board.

I will move on to the issue of freight, which has been raised by many people, primarily by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, who is one of the great experts on this in the House. The growth of Felixstowe and Thamesport places renewed pressure on rail freight services, so that is a good reflection of growth in the economy. I know that he is appreciative of the changes that mean that freight can now move from Felixstowe through to Peterborough rather than coming down and going through London. As a Londoner who lives fairly close to the North London line I can see the benefits of that. I also say to the noble Lord, Lord Davies, that preventing freight coming down into London increases passenger capacity in many ways, so it is one of the mechanisms that provides something of an answer. Electrification clearly has to be considered for this part of the route. It will be part of CP6—it will be considered as part of that—but obviously, as we are only beginning that process and the consultation I cannot comment on what the conclusions will be. However, I want to assure noble Lords that that is being recognised and is definitely one of the issues that we will look at carefully.

I have to admit that my knowledge on the issue of Sizewell C is very limited, particularly compared to the knowledge of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, so I will write to him on that issue. I am struck by the canny approach that he suggested, which sounded like a win-win, both for the community, for the rail services, and in the end for Sizewell C, so we will take a look at that. I will have to write back to those noble Lords who raised the issue of an east-west rail link and also on community rail partnerships, which are areas that I am less familiar with.

The issue of disability is such a serious one, and I want to spend significant amounts of time looking at disability issues. Again, I am very conscious, from my background in London, that attitude is extremely important in the culture of the organisation. It affects the kind of services that people have. As we go forward into the franchising process it is critical that the issue of disability is at the forefront of people’s minds. By planning around the needs of people who have disabilities and recognising how important their mobility is, we deliver a better system rather than constantly retrofitting, which has been one of the pains and suffering of much of the rail system here in the UK. The noble Baroness will be aware that rolling stock must be compliant with persons with reduced mobility—that is a regulation that comes into effect by 2020—so that will definitely help drive the improvements on the trains. The department is committed to trying to deliver accessibility both on trains and in stations. She might be interested to know that the department is working with Network Rail on the delivery of specific schemes under the Access for All programme. It will not answer all problems but it could try perhaps to deal with issues such as ramps, which she pointed out are absolutely key in this process.

Noble Lords have made various comments about the station at Chelmsford. That is an area on which I will choose to write to a number of noble Lords as I have to confess a lack of familiarity with it. I was going to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, who talked about disability, that perhaps she might be willing to meet with me to talk more extensively about this issue, and perhaps we might even take a trip or two together so that I could see the situation first-hand with someone who goes through some of these awful experiences and find out what could be done, particularly in this arena.

The Brown review into franchising recognised the benefits of setting clear franchise specification outputs and giving franchisees flexibility in how they are achieved. That picks up a lot of the points that the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, made, so I want to give him that reassurance. We must take into account the views of stakeholders—I am glad that the stakeholders have been so articulate—although I would perhaps have wished to have been more knowledgeable about the system before I had to face them in debate. That has been very good and salutary for me. When we consult on the new franchises in late 2014 I hope very much that those voices will make sure that they are heard, and we will make sure that they are listened to. We want to ensure that the passenger is at the heart of rail services in the east of England; that has to be right in terms of the community, economic growth and the success of our increasingly improving and very important rail system. I think I am being told that I am out of time.